And the Global Capital of Robotics Is…Everywhere

Here at Xconomy we’ve spilled considerable ink over the question of why Silicon Valley robotics companies seem to lag behind their peers in big centers of robotics like Boston and Pittsburgh.

But if you look at the locations of robot makers worldwide, it’s clear that no single region really dominates this emerging industry. Makers of industrial and service robots, and their suppliers and affiliated academic institutions, are spread out across Europe, Asia, and North America, with respectable clusters in India, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand as well.

That’s all much clearer today thanks to a map of the “Global 1,000 Robot Makers” just published by The Robot Report, a Santa Barbara, CA-based organization that tracks the business of robotics.

The map (embedded below) distinguishes between builders of industrial robots, makers of service robots for corporate, government, or private use; robotics startups; and universities and research labs with strong robotics programs. Frank Tobe, a private investor who founded The Robot Report as a way to share his research on the industry, says the map is the result of a year of information gathering.

The Global 1,000 Robot Makers. By Frank Tobe, editor/publisher of The Robot Report; © 2012 The Robot Report. All rights reserved. Scroll or zoom to see more regions; click pushpins for company details.

At a high level, the map illustrates that the industry is roughly evenly divided between industrial robotics companies (the red pushpins) and service robotics companies (blue and green pushpins). “To me the map shows that there really are two distinct robotics industries: old-line industrial and everything else,” Tobe says. “And the everything else sector…is doing what emerging businesses do everywhere: they start many, many new companies and fail or merge or get acquired into a smaller more established groups of companies.”

It’s also clear from the map that robotics startups cluster around university towns, while industrial robotics companies tend to be located in the more traditional manufacturing hubs. “With this new map one can see hubs of robotic activity where universities push out ideas and bright students, start-ups flourish and turn into true service robot companies,” says Tobe.

Tobe, whose personal investment fund is focused on robotics, says he compiled the data because he was surprised by the lack of information available about the industry. “Most companies are not publicly traded; they are privately held with no requirement to provide information,” he says. “Thus I began an intensive research project that took me to Japan, Korea, China, Germany, France, Switzerland, and all over the Internet.”

Tobe’s research for the map involved “sifting through every article on the subject of robotics—which I found online, at robotic events, and through universities and research labs and reports—to find companies involved and then finding them on the Internet and seeing what type of company they were and then entering that information into my database.”

Tobe says he plans to expand the map in 2013 to show ancillary businesses and more universities and research facilities. “But I’ll first have to get funding to hire clerical support,” he says.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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